Two of the most divisive issues in education are defining the November ballot’s only contested race for a seat on the state Board of Education.
Democrat Christine Trujillo and Republican Mary Agnes Gilbert — who are running for the board’s District 3 in the Nov. 3 general election — disagree on how public schools should address evolution and teach students who do not know English.
The district, which has been represented by Democrat Emmalou Rodriguez for two of the last three terms, includes parts of Albuquerque’s Northeast and Southeast Heights.
Trujillo describes herself as a strong advocate of bilingual education and the teaching of evolution.
Gilbert said she questions bilingual programs and has reservations about how evolution is being taught in the classroom.
She said students can suffer when evolution is taught to the exclusion of alternative theories, such as the creation account found in the Bible.
“When you teach people that they came from monkeys, they tend to act like monkeys,” Gilbert said.
Gilbert said she does not oppose the teaching of evolution, but wants parents to be able to determine what type of instruction their children receive. She also supports including the biblical account of the Earth’s creation.
“There are several different outlooks on the Big Bang and creationism,” she said.
Trujillo said she believes evolution is a critical part of a strong science curriculum. She also said creationism should not be discussed in science classrooms.
“In my opinion, it is not an issue that deems further discussion,” Trujillo said. “It is a religious viewpoint and not based in science.
As a bilingual instructor at Albuquerque’s Monte Vista Elementary, Trujillo said she believes bilingual programs are the most effective way to teach students with limited English skills.
Bilingual education programs seek to use a student’s native language to keep the student current in studies while learning English.
In addition, many bilingual programs — like the one Trujillo teaches — rely on languages other than English to seek to make students literate in two languages.
Trujillo admits the bilingual approach can fail if it is not administered properly, but she opposes efforts to eliminate the programs.
“That’s like throwing the baby out with the bath water,” she said.
Gilbert said she doesn’t know how bilingual education programs work in Albuquerque, but she said she opposes programs that do not focus attention on teaching students English rapidly.
Ideally, she said, students should be “immersed” in English instruction until they are familiar with the language. After that, she said, she would support efforts to teach students a language other than English.
However, Gilbert and Trujillo agree that they do not want bilingual education or evolution to be the only issues dominating their campaigns.
Gilbert, who has eight children and 20 grandchildren, said she is waging her first political race in order to raise standards for teachers and students. She said she is most concerned about ensuring that all students know how to read by the end of the third grade.
Gilbert also said she supports student vouchers, granting parents a tax credit to send their children to the private school of their choice.
Trujillo said she opposes vouchers, fearing that they would rob public schools of resources.
She said she hopes to provide the board with a perspective often lacking in discussion of public policy: that of a teacher. As such, she said she would fight for higher teacher pay and classroom spending.
“You have got to put your money where your mouth is and fund public schools,” she said.
The race between Trujillo and Gilbert is the only contested battle for a state board seat.
Unopposed candidates for board seats in the general election are: Republican Marshall Berman in District 2; Democrat Wallace Davis in District 5; Democrat Catherine Smith in District 6; and Republican Frances Stevens in District 7.
Mary Agnes Gilbert
BORN: April 17, 1930; Dallas, Texas.
EDUCATION: Two years of college at Our Lady of the Lake College in San Antonio, Texas.
OCCUPATION: Housewife, with eight children and 20 grandchildren. Owns and manages private real-estate properties.
EXPERIENCE: Treasurer, Republican Party of Bernalillo County; member and volunteer Holy Ghost Church in Albuquerque; volunteer, New Mexico Right to Life.
BORN: Nov. 25, 1953; Taos.
EDUCATION: Bachelor’s degree in bilingual education, New Mexico Highlands. Currently finishing a master’s degree at University of New Mexico.
OCCUPATION: Bilingual instructor, Monte Vista Elementary. Mother of four children.
EXPERIENCE: Member, Intel Community Advisory Panel; board member, New Mexico Human Rights Coalition; recipient of the Visionaries in Education Award, 1994, from the Albuquerque Hispano Chamber of Commerce.